Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Glamorous Life - read tonight at Story Lab Chicago

I read this tonight at a brand new reading series called Story Lab Chicago, and I had a fantastic time.  I've never gotten a reaction like that from an audience, and there was a little piece of me that never wanted to leave the Black Rock.  I ordered another beer and hung around for a while, enjoying the moment.  Tomorrow is just another day, but tonight was a blast, thanks!

The Glamorous Life
By nine a.m., at work, I’ve seen seventeen naked bodies, most of them belonging to ageing Korean women who spend the early morning in the pool doing water aerobics, and seem to have a cultural penchant for spending time together in the buff.  They drape towels over the chairs near a row of sinks in the women’s locker room, where they sit in the altogether, blow drying their hair in front of the mirrors and speaking in their native tongue in energetic staccato bursts.  I can’t say that seeing people naked has ever been a workplace hazard for me.  I consider which is weirder: the possibility that my coworkers might see me naked some day, or that I might see them naked someday.  My boss is a very fit, very socially awkward woman who reminds me of Jane Lynch's character on Glee, only she's not nearly as funny, nor as hot.  I don't think I want to see her naked.  

One of my first assignments at this job was to man a table outside the gym and hand out apples to people who had walked a mile for an event called the Apple Walk.  I’m no monument to justice; I distributed fruit regardless of whether people actually walked a mile.  I used to write human interest stories about women who gained economic stability raising guinea pigs in Peru, and grant proposals for girls’ education projects in Tanzania, among other things, for an international humanitarian aid organization.  Then I lost my job in the bad economy, and took advantage of the time off by traveling and volunteering while I looked for work.  I accepted a job doing administrative work in a gym because it was the only job that was offered to me after an entire year of submitting resumes, going on interviews, and collecting rejections.  After a while I began to expect rejection, and it was bad for my head; if nothing else, this job would give me a break from it.  I tell myself it’s what I’m doing for now, to get by, to get off unemployment, and for the health insurance.  

It’s been eight months though, which is apparently long enough for Stoil Stoilov, the tiny Russian man who maintains the gym equipment, to wink at me when we cross paths.  Loosely translated, his name means Stoil of Stoil.  In addition to maintaining equipment, Stoil is a bodybuilder, and has all his blue jeans taken in to fit his muscular, froglike physique.  He has them split down the center seam, the waist pulled in a couple inches, and then sewn back together.  He doesn’t bother to have the back pockets moved though, so the final product creates the visual effect of the back pockets coming together at an angle and disappearing into his ass crack.  I think he does this on purpose to direct attention to his ass, which is small and very tight.  Most of our interactions revolve around the spreadsheets that I create so he can keep track of his maintenance schedule; he seems to be just as impressed by my computer skills as I am with his ability to lift heavy things.  He once told me, his chest swelling with pride, or maybe it was just muscle mass: “I’m like St. Peter; I have the keys to everything.”  

My working life is filled with small indignities: eating cafeteria food, getting paid by the hour, wrestling with a time clock that only counts ten times an hour – so if I clock in at 9:03, I don’t start getting paid until 9:06.  This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that I have a ten minute commute, I don’t have to get dressed up for work – or even shower, and my ass has gotten 6% smaller.  

Sometimes I even have fun – my best friend at work is a 67 year-old woman named Lois, who was a dancer before she started working here.  We go to the cafeteria together to buy our institutional lunches, she lets me practice reading my stories out loud to her, and she keeps me updated on her husband who’s almost ten years younger than she is which is just scandalous.  She’s in charge of the arthritis program, and heads an annual event called National Senior Health and Fitness day, where she patrols baskets of snacks and goody bags in the lobby to make sure that only old people are getting free stuff, and that nobody gets seconds.

One of my coworkers is an enormous wall of a man named Fred, who wears t-shirts with the sides cut out so everyone can see the dragon tattoo that runs down his side, and to show off his defined musculature.  My interactions with him were limited to times when I couldn’t reach something and was too lazy to go find a step stool.  That changed the day he came to work wearing a ladies’ holiday sweater with an appliquéd teddy bear on it.  It had a very feminine, delicately scalloped neckline, and he wore it with a black turtleneck underneath, which for some reason made it even funnier.  He walked into my work area dressed like that and said “hey has anyone looked at Caitlin’s stocking?”  I knew immediately what he was referring to – for the holidays, every staff member has a miniature stocking with their name written in bubble paint.  It was my job to make stockings for staff that didn't already have one this year, and the rest came from a plastic storage bin, and were presumably made by my predecessor.  Caitlin’s stocking had a candle rendered in glue and glitter, but it looked like something else.  I looked my enormous, sweater-wearing coworker in the eye and said “I think you and I are on the same wavelength here.” At this he started laughing, which I took as a cue to continue.  “It’s um… it looks there’s a cock and balls on Caitlin’s stocking.”   “Yeah I showed it to her,” he said, and in a pitch-perfect imitation of Caitlin’s voice, dramatically reenacted the moment: “why what’s on it? Oh my god!”  He told all of Caitlin’s clients about it, and for weeks, people came up to her and said: “I saw your stocking.”  

So, I can put Stoil, Lois, and Fred in the good column when I make my list of pros and cons of this job; I've had worse.  There was the job working for a hulk of a boss at an ad sales company who asked me, on Ash Wednesday, when “my holiday” was – meaning… you know, Passover, only he didn’t want to come right out and say it.  He was gigantic, six foot five, easily three hundred pounds; he liked to bully people to get his way, and had breath that smelled like rotting cabbage.  My male coworkers said he’d recognize their shoes in the men’s room stalls, and start talking to them about clients while they were taking a crap.  

Then there was the woman at a realtor’s association who used an entire sheet of legal paper to write the sentence: “I’m having an emergency,” and left the note in my cubicle – which was located ten feet from her office.  “What kind of emergency,” I asked.  “I tried to make coffee,” she said, “and water went everywhere. I don’t know what I should do.”  Later I discovered that she never read her emails, never even opened her Outlook program, because, she said, it was “too overwhelming.”  Once, while we were meeting, her phone rang and she let it go to voicemail.  Afterwards she looked at the blinking phone message indicator with bewilderment.  “I didn’t even hear the phone ring, did you?” She asked.  

And I once had a short-lived job assisting a training program for nurses who work in senior care.  At the first and only training that I took part in, I refused to participate in an exercise that involved taking an adult diaper into the bathroom, running the absorbent center under a faucet, pulling down my pants, affixing the damp diaper to my body, and wearing it under my clothes for the rest of the afternoon as part of a sensitivity training.  There are some things that you don’t have to experience firsthand in order to know that they suck.  It seemed more like a sorority hazing than sensitivity training to me, and if pressed, I was prepared to tell the instructor that my previous job was at an organization that worked to eliminate child abuse, but nobody ever held a lit cigar to my arm as part of a sensitivity training.  

At the gym, there are TVs around the facility that play a loop of music videos, and lately Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” has been in heavy rotation.  It’s been a while since I’ve heard that song, and I’d like to take a moment to share some of the lyrics:
She wears a long fur coat of mink
Even in the summer time
Everybody knows from the coy little wink
The girl's got a lot on her mind
She's got big thoughts, big dreams
And a big brown Mercedes sedan
What I think this girl
She really wants
Is to be in love with a man
She wants to lead the Glamorous Life
She don't need a man's touch
She wants to lead the Glamorous Life
Without love
It ain't much, it ain't much

I’m not quite sure if Shelia is saying that money is all you need, or that love is all you need, but sometimes I like to pretend that I’m the girl in the song that everybody knows from the coy little wink has lot on her mind.  I’m not really all that interested in a big brown Mercedes sedan, but I’m down with big thoughts and big dreams.  And I may run the risk of seeing my boss naked someday, but for now, anyway, this is about as glamorous as it gets.  Until further notice, I’ll be at the gym, hanging out with Stoil, Lois, and Fred.


Deirdre said...

It WAS a blast. And you were brilliant! xxx

matt said...

I think you might possibly be my most favorite writer of all time.

AJ said...

Loved, loved, loved it! Great piece, great performance.

JP said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

j.cro said...

I finally got a chance to read this and I laughed out loud a LOT! This is great, great, GREAT!!! I wish I could have heard you read it in person.

It's awesome you got to see the Vivian Meier show. I'm supremely jealous about that.

I hope you're able to move about freely now that your storm-a-gedon is over. Your blizzard sounds a lot like the one we got the day after Christmas. I terribly sorry about that. We STILL have snow on the ground from that one with more piled on top. I wasn't kidding when I said I feel like I live in Vermont, not NJ. Hopefully the upper 30s temps we're supposed to get over the next few days will rid us of it.

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to spring. At this point, I think 45 degrees would feel balmy!

Have a great weekend!!!

Anonymous said...

Been reading your posts for a while now - 18 months, two years? This one is fantastic. Love it. Don't live anywhere near Chicago, but the Story Lab reading sounds like it was worth hearing.

JP said...

Thanks Anonymous, you made my day!